When parents work with their children to help them focus on good oral health habits, they can also help them avoid the poor eating habits that can lead to being overweight or obese. Because weight can be a delicate topic for people of any age, many parents find it difficult to discuss it with their kids. Parents may worry about hurt feelings or damaging their child’s self-esteem. If you feel this way, you’re not alone — but the good news is that there’s a whole different way to approach this discussion by focusing on oral health instead.

What We’ve Learned About Eating Behaviors and Oral Health

In a recent study out of Sweden, a group of preschool and elementary school aged children was evaluated. The children’s eating habits were monitored over an entire day, and their height and weight were recorded alongside this information. Interestingly, the study revealed that the children who ate more often — including high sugar content foods — also had an increased level of the damaging bacteria that cause cavities in their mouths. In another related sub-study, it was revealed that the children who eat healthy enjoyed improved mental health and better self-esteem.

Overall, the message is clear: If you emphasize the importance of good oral health with your child, you’ll also be helping them avoid becoming overweight or obese — and you never even have to mention weight this way!

How to Help Your Child Learn About Good Oral Hygiene — and Good Health

Regular visits with your child’s pediatric dentist are a crucial part of maintaining good oral health, but improved oral health can begin at home. Discuss food with your child by telling them about the damaging effects of sugar. Explain that sugar feeds upon bacteria in the mouth and then soon starts making acids that can cause cavities, gum disease, and even more serious health problems.

Simply replacing high sugar snacks with more natural options — for example switching out a candy bar for an apple — allows your child to protect their teeth better. Of course, it also happens that the natural snacks tend to be much lower in empty calories and saturated fats than their high sugar counterparts do, and this means that it’s easier to keep weight in check by eating this way.

Emphasize the food pyramid and discuss how to get all the food groups in every day as a way to help protect the teeth. Your child might even view this as a fun challenge and may be excited to help you plan menus. When your child understands that there are great tasting and healthy choices from all categories — dairy, grains, veggies, fruits, and proteins — they’ll be much more likely to be positive about eating healthy.

What to Avoid

The way to control your child’s weight is not to prevent them from eating. In fact, studies show that kids who had parents that prevented them from eating tended to be overweight just a few years later. By helping your child make better choices — and explaining why those choices are better — they’ll grow up gravitating towards more natural foods, less high fat and high sugar foods, and an overall healthier approach to eating. Framing the eating changes as a positive change for oral health means that your child is much more likely to accept the dietary changes as necessary and important.

Next time you visit the pediatric dentist, make sure to mention the dietary changes that you and your child have made together. Some positive reinforcement from your child’s dentist can really help them stay motivated about eating healthy to achieve strong and beautiful teeth as they grow.

Make an Appointment With Dr. Davis

Dr. Maggie Davis is a pediatric dentist who provides care for patients from all over the Palm Harbor, Florida area. She offers support for parents and children starting from their very first dental appointment and lasting all the way through the teenage years. Dr. Davis offers general dentistry, preventative care, cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics, dental fillings, root canals, and any other oral care that your child might need. Contact the office anytime to arrange a visit with Dr. Davis!